Plotting the Plot

Here’s hoping this Wednesday’s Update finds you healthy and safe. It’s a beautiful day in Pennsylvania as we prepare for a snowy weekend. Really? Yes. Hopefully, that will be the last of the white stuff for another year. I’m ready for the green.

I have some thoughts for you today on plotting your story. Whether you’re writing a short story or a full-blown novel or something in between, you need to have a solid plot in place. There are many ways to plot your story. I’ve seen anything from three-point plots to seven points and beyond. So let me hit it in the middle with five.

There really is no right or wrong way to plot, but let me share these thoughts. You spend time building your story and character arcs, but if the plot is weak, all else will fail. It doesn’t matter if you write by the seat of your pants or you use elaborate outlines.

For our purposes I’ll refer to the Three Act plot. Breaking our story down into three acts, the first act opens early with a triggering event. There needs to be something to give the story its initial thrust, something to spur on the reader.

I’ve heard it so often, but I believe it’s true. Your first page needs to grab the reader or they will never read page two. Page one is made up of paragraphs. Your first paragraph is the most important, and your paragraphs are made up of sentences. Most professional editors can tell by reading your first sentence if the rest of the story is worth their time. Capitalize on that. Develop a driving first sentence and build on that.

Very early in Act One, you need to build up to an inciting incident or a trigger event. This plot point is the event that sets your story in motion. Confront your protagonist with a problem that leads them into the story events. This indicates impending trouble or circumstances of the main tension in your story.

This brings us to the first turning point. I’ve also heard it referred to as The Lock In. Your protagonist makes a choice to get involved. The protagonist accepts the challenge raised in the inciting incident. S/He or she makes a commitment to solving the problem. S/He lays the comforts of life aside and digs in for whatever might be on the other side.

This brings us to Act Two and the First Culmination. This is a time of recovery for your hero. Perhaps they’ve been shaken off course, but now they regroup and plan what is to happen next. At this plot point, it may also be the perfect time to plant obstacles and problems for your character to face. Perhaps this would be a good place to use foreshadow rather than just telling what the situation is.

Although the protagonist wins a minor battle that wraps up the first half of the story, s/he discovers that he hasn’t been playing the game wrong, he’s been playing the wrong game. This ushers in a twist, and it opens up a realm of challenges the protagonist hadn’t imagined were there.

Act Three begins with the twist. In your protagonist’s eyes, the besetting problem is insurmountable. S/He takes a leap of faith because faith is all that’s left.

The setting is now set for the Final Act Twist, for the final confrontation. At this point, your hero may have underestimated the power or brains of the antagonist. A new challenge is presented and a fight for life ensues. The trick is have your protagonist and especially your readers think the climax has arrived, but in reality, there is one more major battle to be fought.

Without this final twist, your readers may be headed for a predictable ending. Don’t allow that to happen.

That’s it for this week. See you next Wednesday!


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